Activist Neuroaesthetics Conference

July 8-11, 2021

The ACTIVIST NEUROAESTHETICS Conference took place online July 8-11 and includes a number of important thinkers to Activist Neuroaesthetics including Elena Agudio, Yann Moulier Boutang, Juli Carson, Yves Citton, Arne de Boever, Jacquelene Drinkall, Agnieszka Kurant, Karen Lofgren, Anna Munster, Reza Negarestani, Warren Neidich, Florencia Portocarrero, Tony David Sampson, and Anuradha Vikram. An introductory panel discussion with Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Cécile Malaspina, Warren Neidich, and Charles T. Wolfe summarized the first ACTIVIST NEUROAESTHETICS Symposium held March 5-6, 2021.

We are on the verge of a paradigm shift as we transition from a knowledge and information economy to a neural-based one. The advent of an immanent assortment of new technologies like brain-computer interfaces, cortical implants and attention enhancing drugs will join sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence and constitute what is already being referred to as neoliberal neural capitalism. Together they will give new meaning to forms of surveillance and digital governance in the coming digital regimes of superintelligence and the singularity. Activist Neuroaesthetics describes an activist approach to understanding not only the importance of neural plasticity in transforming the material brain, but realizing the proactive potential of art and artists in that transformational process.

Activist Neuroaesthetics understands the brain does not simply reside in the skull as living matter, but is entangled in the contested socio-political-cultural and technological milieu with which it coevolves. Instead of minimizing the liminal, unconscious, mystical, and magical conditions of perception and cognition, Activist Neuroaesthetics maximizes it. It refutes the dogma of what is known as Positive Neuroaesthetics which sees the brain as an unchanging, crystallized entity defined by pure and unchanging essences and whose goal is to explain artworks, such as paintings, through its effects upon the brain’s neural processing itself rather than as something happening independently or outside of the material brain’s jurisdiction. In other words, Positive Neuroaesthetics is focused on facts generated by the scientific method, rather than cultural or artistic ones. Activist Neuroaesthetics is a counter-insurgency which uses its own history of art production, spaces, and temporalities to produce ideologies of dissent where events going on inside and outside the brain coevolve together and our cognitive abilities are expanded, rather than normalized. Activist Neuroaesthetics aims to produce a radicalized post-humanist subject; one which displaces the normalized unitary subject and replaces it with a complex global non-binary relational one.

Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art 
The Activist Neuroaesthetics Conference is presented in collaboration with this year’s Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art (SFSIA) online program, “Activist Neuroaesthetics in Cognitive Capitalism.” SFSIA is a nomadic, intensive summer academy with shifting programs in contemporary critical theory that stresses an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the relationship between art and politics. SFSIA originated in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in 2015 and migrated to Berlin, Germany in 2016 where it most recently has been hosted by Spike. Additional programs have been hosted by Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and Performance Space New York. In 2021, SFSIA is collaborating with sonsbeek20→24 on a program in Arnhem, The Netherlands. The institute was founded by artist and theorist Warren Neidich and co-directed by art critic and poet Barry Schwabsky. Sarrita Hunn is the assistant director.


Elena Agudio is a Berlin-based art historian and curator. She studied Art History at the University of Venice – Ca’ Foscari and in 2010 she received her PhD in Contemporary Art and Design. She is interested in curatorial practices as forms of troubling, with a focus on its performative and relational aspects. Since 2013 she has been artistic co-director of SAVVY Contemporary, where she curates and co-curates exhibition projects, discursive programmes and series, among which recently: Ultrasanity. On Madness, Sanitation, Antipsychiatry and ResistanceSoil is an Inscribed Body. On Sovereignty and Agropoetics; and the series Speaking Feminisms/We Who Are Not The Same dedicated to an exploration of current feminist practices and alliances. She is also artistic director of the non-profit association Association of Neuroesthetics (AoN)_Platform for Art and Neuroscience, a project in collaboration with the Medical University of Charité and The School of Mind and Brain of the Humboldt University encouraging both a dialogue and lasting cooperation between contemporary art and the cognitive sciences. She writes and teaches, and since 2017 she has been invited to offer art histories classes and run seminars at the Weissensee School of Art in Berlin. In 2017 and 2018 she was Guest professor at HfBK (Kunsthochschule für Bildende Künste) in Hamburg and Resident Fellow at Helsinki University of the Arts.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, founder of the famous “Radio Alice” in Bologna and an important figure of the Italian Autonomia Movement, is a writer, media theorist, and media activist. He currently teaches Social History of the Media at the Accademia di Brera, Milan.

Yann Moulier Boutang, born in 1949, is a graduate from Ecole Normale Supérieure (Philosophy 1970). He is now emeritus professor of economics at University of Technology of Compiègne which is part of Alliance Sorbonne University France, teaching political economy, socio-economics, economy of complexity, law economics of intellectual property rights. He is a member of the Costech Laboratory (Knowledge, Organization and Technical Systems) in the same University. From 2007 to 2015, he taught culture and digital contemporary culture at the Superior School of Arts and Design at Saint-Etienne and innovation by design at ENSCI (National Superior School of Industrial Creation). In 2008, he was appointed first visiting professor in economics  at the National Superior School of Architecture (Paris-Malaquais). He was invited to many universities and Institutes in France (STRATE school of Design) as well as abroad (UFRJ, UNISINOS Brasil), SUNY Binghamton (New York), CIESPAL (Quito), UNAM (Mexico). He has been running the quarterly Multitudes since its foundation (82 issues published). He is an associate professor at the Sino-European Faculty of Technology (UTSEUS) in Shanghai University (SHU) and also at the Offshore Platform in Shanghai of the National Superior School of Art and Design of Nancy (ENSAD).

Juli Carson is Professor of Art at the University of California, Irvine, where she directs the Critical and Curatorial Area in the Department of Art. She is also Director of UCI’s University Art Galleries. From 2018-2019 she was Philippe Jabre Professor of Art History and Curating in the Department of Fine Art and Art History at the American University of Beirut, where she curated the exhibition caesura-a moment in time, again rubbed smooth. Her books on the convergence of psychoanalysis, hermeneutics and conceptual art include: Exile of the Imaginary: Politics, Aesthetics, Love (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2007), The Limits of Representation: Psychoanalysis and Critical Aesthetics (Buenos Aires: Letra Viva Press, 2011) and The Hermeneutic Impulse: Aesthetics of an Untethered Past (Berlin: PoLyPen, b_books Press, 2019). She is also author of the website, which hosts the Life Worth Living Series, a rotation of conversations among filmmakers, artists and scholars on contemporary cultural phenomenon, as well as an archive of Carson’s select exhibitions and essays.

Yves Citton is a professor in Literature and Media at the Université Paris 8 and co-editor of the journal Multitudes. He recently published Faire avec. Conflits, coalitions, contagions (Les Liens qui Libèrent, 2021), Générations collapsonautes (Seuil, 2020, in collaboration with Jacopo Rasmi), Mediarchy (Polity Press, 2019), Contre-courants politiques (Fayard, 2018), The Ecology of Attention (Polity Press, 2016). Most of his articles are in open access online at

Arne De Boever teaches American Studies in the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts (USA), where he also directs the MA Aesthetics and Politics program. He is the author of States of Exception in the Contemporary Novel (Continuum, 2012), Narrative Care (Bloomsbury, 2013), Plastic Sovereignties (Edinburgh, 2016), Finance Fictions (Fordham, 2018), and Against Aesthetic Exceptionalism (Minnesota, 2019). His most recent book François Jullien’s Unexceptional Thought: A Critical Introduction was published by Rowman & Littlefield (2020).

Jacquelene Drinkall is an artist, writer, theorist, independent curator, and an educator, with research expertise in telepathic art and contemporary art practice and theory. She was awarded a RANT RAF grant to co-curate Word of Mouth, a 2019 Venice Biennale pop-up exhibition with lead-curator Peter Hill (also shown at Grau Projekt, Melbourne) and curated Energy, Data Abstraction and Cognitive Capitalism (2017) funded by Create NSW and mentored by Tony Bond OAM. She has written several book chapters and articles on telepathy in art, culture and science, most recently in a Leonardo Electronic Almanac special issue on “New Cloud and Molecular Aesthetics”; Postmodernism and Narratives of Erasure in Culture, Literature, and Language (2020); Energy Cultures (2019); Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism Part Three (2017); and more. Additional related past accomplishments include: University Medal awarded Honours in Art; Paris research with AGNSW residency, Dyason Bequest and Marten Bequest (1999); Visual Art (Painting) Masters thesis ‘Metaphors of Telecommunications, Transference and Telecommunications’ (2000); and APA funded Art History and Theory PhD thesis ‘Telepathy in Contemporary, Conceptual and Performance Art’ (2006). Jacquelene has worked as an artist learning facilitator at University of Sydney, James Cook University, University of Tasmania, University of New South Wales and Australian National University. She is co-curator (with Warren Neidich) of the Activist Neuroaesthetics exhibition Telepathy and New Labor at Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V. in July 2021 (Berlin, DE).

Agnieszka Kurant is a conceptual artist whose work investigates collective intelligence, non-human intelligences (from microbial to Artificial Intelligence) and the exploitations of social capital under surveillance capitalism. She explores the transformations of the human and the future of labour and creativity in the 21st century. Kurant is the recipient of the 2020 LACMA A+T Award, the 2019 Frontier Art Prize and the 2018 Pollock-Krasner Award. She is currently an Artist Fellow at the Berggruen Institute and was an artist in residence at MIT CAST in 2017 – 2019. Her recent exhibitions include the Istanbul BiennialBroken Nature at the MoMA, Cybernetics of the Poor at Kunsthalle Wien, Uncanny Valley at the De Young Museum, The Age of You at MOCA Toronto and the Milano Triennale. In April 2021 Kurant launched her permanent public commission for the MIT List Visual Arts Center and Kendall Square in Cambridge. In 2015, Kurant presented a commission for the Guggenheim Museum façade in New York.  In 2013-2014 she presented a major solo exhibition at the Sculpture Center in New York and at Stroom den Haag. In 2010 she co-represented Poland at the Venice Biennale of Architecture (with A.Wasilkowska). Her work was also exhibited at Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Guggenheim Bilbao, Witte de With, Moderna Museet; Cleveland Biennial; MUMOK, Vienna; The Kitchen; SCAD MoA, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Bonner Kunstverein; Grazer Kunstverein, Kunsthalle Meinz; Stroom Den Haag; MOMA in Warsaw; MOCA Detroit; CAC in Cincinnati; Mamco, Geneva; Frieze Projects, London, Performa Biennial and Momentum Biennial. In November 2021 her commission, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, will be presented at Castello di Rivoli. Kurant’s monograph book Collective Intelligence, will be published by Sternberg Press and MIT Press in the fall of 2021.

Karen Lofgren is a Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based artist working primarily in sculpture and artist books from a feminist and decolonial perspective, and holds an MFA from CalArts. Her research centers on ritual, history, mythology, and the construction of consciousness over time, forming relationships between cultural systems and other wild systems. She was a 2019 Pollock-Krasner grantee; receives Canada Council Grant support; was Fulbright Core Scholar at UAL, Central St. Martins College in 2017/2018; and is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow.

Cécile Malaspina is directeur de programme at the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris, and Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London. She is the author of An Epistemology of Noise (Bloomsbury 2018) and principal translator of Gilbert Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (Minnesota University Press 2017).  She completed her PhD in Philosophy, Epistemology and History of Science and Technology at Paris 8 Denis Diderot, under the supervision of Alain Leplège and Iain Hamilton Grant, and obtained her MA in Contemporary French Philosophy & Critical Theory from the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), UK.

Anna Munster is an artist, writer and professor in Art and Design, and Deputy Director of the National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW. She is the author of An Aesthesia of Networks (MIT Press 2013) and Materializing New Media (Dartmouth University Press, 2006). Both of these examine artists’ engagements with networks and digital culture and contribute a dynamic conception of digital materiality to digital arts and media studies. Anna newest major publication is the co-edited anthology, Immediation, I and II with Erin Manning and Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen (Open Humanities Press, 2019). Her current research, Re-imaging the empirical: statistical visualisation in art and science (funded by the Australian Research Council) examines the relations between machine learning and visuality, with a special emphasis on how AI assemblages require and generate operative images. She is investigating the ways in which machine learning assemblages re-configure seeing and perception by laying claim to pre-cognitive human capacities and by colonising futurity. She is also interested in the ways in which artists are exploring a more indeterminate machine learning sensibility, actively deploying its techniques outside its more techno-determinist political tendencies. Anna is also an artist, regularly collaborating with Michele Barker. Their most recent commission was pull (2017), for Experimenta Make Sense: International Triennial of Media Art. Their works use moving image, soundscapes, interaction and installation design to explore human and nonhuman movement and. perception. They are currently working with drones to critique and redeploy drone cinematography.

Reza Negarestani is a philosopher and writer. He has lectured and taught at numerous international universities and institutes. His latest work is Intelligence and Spirit (2018, Sequence Press/Urbanomic/MIT), centered on the philosophy of German Idealism, philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and theoretical computer science. Negarestani currently directs the critical philosophy programme at The New Centre for Research and Practice.

Having studied photography, neuroscience, medicine and architecture, Warren Neidich brings to any discussion platform a unique interdisciplinary position that he calls “trans-thinking.” He currently uses video and neon to create cross pollinating conceptual text-based works that reflect upon situations at the border zone of art, science and social justice. His performative and sculptural work Pizzagate Neon (2018), recently on display at the Venice Biennial 2019, analyzed through a large hanging neon sculpture the relations of Fake News, networked attention economy, evolving techno-cultural habitus and the co-evolving architecture of the brain. His recent conceptual project Drive-By-Art (Public Sculpture in This Moment of Social Distancing) just opened on the South Fork of Long Island and Los Angeles to some acclaim including reviews in the NY Times, Hyperallergic, The Art Newspaper, Time Out and LA Magazine. He is founder and director of the Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art (2015-), a theory intensive postgraduate course that attracts students worldwide operating in Los Angeles, NYC and Berlin. Additionally he was a tutor in the departments of visual art, computer science and cultural studies at Goldsmith College London as well as recently serving as Professor of Art at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule, Berlin. He has been a visiting lecturer at the departments of art at Brown University, GSD Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Southern California Institute of Architecture, UCLA, La Sorbonne Paris, University of Oxford and Cambridge University, UK. He is American editor of Archive Books and author of over 20 books. His recent books include The Glossary of Cognitive Activism, Archive Books, Berlin, and Neuromacht (in German) Merve, Leipzig.

Florencia Portocarrero (Lima, 1981) writes, lectures, teaches and organizes both exhibitions and public programs. Her research interests are focused on how to rewrite art history from a feminist perspective, regimes of subjectivation in the context of neoliberal globalization and the questioning of hegemonic forms of knowledge. Between 2008 and 2010, she completed a master’s degree in Theoretical Studies in Psychoanalysis at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Later, from 2012 to 2013, Portocarrero participated in the Curatorial Program of the Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam, and in 2015 she completed a second master’s degree in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths University in London. She has participated in several international conferences and her writings on art and culture appear regularly in specialized magazines such as Atlántica Journal, Artishock and Terremoto. In 2017/2018 Portocarrero received the Curating Connections scholarship, awarded by the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program and the KfW Stiftung. In Lima, she has worked as a Public Program Curator at Proyecto AMIL (2015-2019), was a Curatorial Advisor of the Museo de Arte de Lima–MALI Contemporary Art Acquisitions Committee (2018-2020) and is a member of Bisagra, one of the few art collectives in the city.

Tony D. Sampson is an academic, author and editor. His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and Affect and Social Media: Emotion, Mediation, Anxiety and Contagion, co-edited with Darren Ellis and Stephen Maddison (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). His new book – A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media – was published by Polity in 2020. Tony is the host and organiser of the Affect and Social Media conferences in east London and a co-founder of the public engagement initiative the Cultural Engine Research Group. He currently works as a reader in digital media cultures and communication at the University of East London in the UK where he also leads the MA Media and Communication Industries and supervises PhDs and Prof Docs in Fine Art.

Anuradha Vikram is a Los Angeles-based writer, curator, and educator. Vikram is co-curator (with UCLA Art Sci Center director Victoria Vesna) of the upcoming Pacific Standard Time: Art x Science x LA exhibition Atmosphere of Sound: Sonic Art in Times of Climate Disruption (opening 2024), and guest curator for The Craft Contemporary (fka CAFAM) of the upcoming solo retrospective Jaishri Abichandani: Flower-Headed Children (opening 2022). Her book, “Decolonizing Culture,” is a collection of seventeen essays that address questions of race and gender parity in contemporary art spaces (Art Practical/Sming Sming Books, 2017). Vikram is faculty in the UCLA Department of Art and at USC Roski School of Art and Design. She is a member of the editorial board for X-TRA, an advising editor for Curationist, and an editor for X Topics, an imprint of X Artists’ Books.

Charles T. Wolfe is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès. He works primarily in history and philosophy of the early modern life sciences, with a particular interest in materialism and vitalism. He is the author of Materialism: A Historico-Philosophical Introduction (2016), La philosophie de la biologie: une histoire du vitalisme (2019) and Lire le matérialisme (2020), and has edited or co-edited volumes on monsters, brains, empiricism, biology and vitalism, including currently (w. D. Jalobeanu) the Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences and (w. J. Symons) The History and Philosophy of Materialism. He is co-editor of the book series ‘History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences’ (Springer).

This project is made possible with support from Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Stiftung Kunstfonds, Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V., and private donors.